On November 4, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle launched what it is calling one of its most innovative “value-add” programs ever to be introduced: They set up a website and then mostly stepped away, saying, “Good luck, and may the force be with you.” The new Federation-sponsored site, J-Kick, combines “Jewish” and “Kickstarter” as a way for local organizations to raise project funds.
Kickstarter, if you’re not familiar, is the world’s largest crowdfunding platform. The company’s mission is to help bring creative projects to life. Since launching in 2009, 5.1 million people have pledged $867 million, funding 51,000 creative projects such as films, stage shows, comics, journalism, video games, and food-related projects. People who back Kickstarter projects are offered tangible rewards and one-of-a-kind experiences in exchange for their varying levels of support.
J-Kick was born out of a desire and need for the Federation to continue forging ahead in its mission to engage a younger, ever-evolving Jewish audience. While the Federation itself continues to raise money with its traditional Jewish population, its leaders have come to realize that engaging Jewish millennials means tapping into a new way of fundraising and communication.
“Federations emerged years ago in order to centralize fundraising and grantmaking within the Jewish community, and that was great, but this is not your grandfather’s Federation,” said Jim DiPeso, the Federation’s director of communications. “Today’s Federation donors have new ideas and new ways of thinking about getting the most out of their philanthropic dollars.”
J-Kick is open to 501(c)(3) organizations in Washington State or individuals who have a 501(c)(3) organization as their fiscal sponsor. Projects must serve the Jewish community in Washington State, have a fundraising goal ranging from $1,800 to $18,000, and cannot be under consideration for any other Federation grant while being listed on J-Kick. From the time the project goes live on the site, the funding goal must be reached by 30, 45 or 60 days — a period determined by the project’s manager. A project will receive funds if it reaches a “tipping point”: Two-thirds of the fundraising goal.
Allowing organizations that already receive traditional Federation funding — applying for and receiving specific programming grants each year — to get more creative and specific with their fundraising is exactly what the Federation intends to encourage with J-Kick.
“This is a way for new ideas that maybe don’t fall within the traditional funding guidelines to get funded and people can get excited about it,” said Keith Dvorchik, the Federation’s president and CEO. “We can use it as a way to broaden and expand what’s offered in our Jewish community.”
Since the launch earlier this month, eight projects have appeared on J-Kick. They vary from the “Schechter Tub,” a hot tub for Camp Solomon Schechter, to Vintage UW, which will allow Hillel students to create and bottle their own kosher wines.
Rabbi Oren Hayon, executive director of Hillel at University of Washington, said he is intrigued about how his agency’s experience using J-Kick will go.
“Vintage UW is a little bit of an experiment for us; we’re not sure how people are going to respond and we’re not sure how it’s all going to work,” said Hayon. “We’ll see how this works differently from our traditional fundraising.”
Given that J-Kick is so different from its other fundraising efforts, Hillel leaders are excited to see if the campaign is successful.
“Because it’s a really student focused project, we’ll be able to reach students and other people in new ways,” Hayon said.
As of Nov. 13, the project had received donations from nine funders, totaling 15 percent of the $1,800 effort, with 37 days left to donate. Another project, Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue’s “Living a Life that Matters,” which will bring in a Jewish Zen master for a Shabbaton weekend, has brought in $2,147 of its requested $5,744. That campaign incorporates incentives, such as lunch with the special guest for the highest donation level, to sweeten the pot.
Local entrepreneur Dan Shapiro believes that the successful projects will be the ones that engage the hearts and imaginations of the Jewish community.
“If J-Kick allows donors to feel more connected to their community, everyone is going to benefit,” he said.
Shapiro launched a Kickstarter for a children’s board game in September, which raised more than $630,000 — over 25 times its original goal.
“The advent of crowdfunding has changed the relationship of people to projects that they care about,” said Shapiro. “With services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, people can find inspiration and role models in projects that bring them joy, and then back those in a way that is both affordable to them and meaningful to the project creator.”
But Kickstarter disallows charity fundraising, so Shapiro sees J-Kick as having the potential to bring this same ethos to a new type of program.
“That should be an opportunity, not a chore, for the people who work tirelessly to support it,” Shapiro points out. “By opening up ‘the budget’ to the community, and letting people vote with their pocketbooks, I think we could see a renaissance in Jewish community support.”
However, Max Temkin, a Chicago-based entrepreneur who co-created the wildly successful Kickstarter project Cards Against Humanity, is skeptical. He doesn’t believe the design of J-Kick will hold up when compared to the Kickstarter model. Over email, Tempkin told JTNews that “crowdfunding is revolutionary and it’s changed my life and I’m happy for any opportunity for people to get to make their own things, but I don’t think J-Kick is a great tool,” he wrote. “They charge backers when the project reaches 67 percent of funding, which seems like it would lead to a scenario where people have money from backers but not enough money to execute their project,” with regard to the “tipping-point” policy implemented by J-Kick.
With many of the project managers creating the J-Kicks being new to crowdfunding and how to budget exactly what may or may not be needed to carry out a successful project, this may lead to underfunded, impossible completions, implied Temkin.
DiPeso said the idea of modeling J-Kick this way was to straddle between two crowdfunding schools of thought: One that gives projects the money only if they reach their goals, and the other that allows projects to take whatever they’re pledged, regardless of the goal.
With the all-or-nothing model, “it creates a sense of urgency, so it really behooves the agency listing the project to really get out there and create a compelling message and market the project,” he said.
At the same time, the Federation didn’t want agencies who didn’t reach their full goals to end up with nothing.
“We’re looking for some middle ground,” he said.